When summer arrives, I put my blinders on. I stop reading bulletin boards and the newspaper event listings. My year-round Vineyard brain can’t take in that many options, and my year-round Vineyard income can’t afford them anyway.

moth programLast night, however, I drove myself to Oak Bluffs for “Fish Out of Water: The Moth on Martha’s Vineyard” at the Tabernacle. The Moth is a public radio show that touts itself as “True Stories Told Live.”

When it came to Martha’s Vineyard last summer, I’d never heard of it. Someone asked me if I was going to their storytelling workshop. Yeah, right: even if I’d heard of it and had any interest in taking it, the workshop cost something like $400.

Later I heard that the Moth people were disappointed that so few Vineyard people had taken part. They expected “Vineyard people” to take part in something that cost a bundle and happened in the middle of summer? I wrote them off as a bunch of clueless New Yawkers.

One of the storytellers, however, at last year’s public performance was Cynthia Riggs. Cynthia’s island bona fides are beyond impeccable, and her story — about her reunion with and eventual marriage to a long-ago co-worker she hadn’t seen in more than 60 years — has become a big Moth hit. (For background see my blog post about Cynthia’s February bridal shower.) Thanks to Cynthia, the New Yawkers now have a clue. As a result, there were three Vineyard residents on last night’s program, and one of them was my friend and writers’ group buddy Shirley Mayhew. As her surname should suggest, her island bona fides are also impeccable. She generously put me on her guest list.

Inside the Tabernacle

Inside the Tabernacle

Truth to tell, if she hadn’t, I would have scrounged 40 bucks for a ticket even if it meant going without beer for the next month, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.

As I approached the Tabernacle, it became crystal clear that for hundreds upon hundreds of people, coming up with $40 was so not a problem. It looked like a mother ship from New Yawk had landed in the middle of the Campground. The Tabernacle was close to sold out. What does “sold out” mean at the Tabernacle? I’ve heard 2,000 mentioned as a capacity crowd. How many had bought tickets and how many were comped in? No idea, but as of a few days ago 1,200 tickets had been sold, and for sure that number can only have gone up.

In addition to my friend Shirley, the storytellers on the program included Vineyard Gazette managing editor Bill Eville and Captain Buddy Vanderhoop, a Wampanoag from Aquinnah who runs a fishing charter and whose clients have amassed an enviable record in the Vineyard’s fall Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. You know what? I’m not saying this just because I live here, but the three “locals” left the other two storytellers, both professional New Yawkers with media credits out the wazoo, in the dust.

I was so proud of them. The audience was hugely enthusiastic and supportive of everybody, but I really, really hope that the summer visitors among them realize that they heard some real Vineyard stories last night.



About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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9 Responses to Moth

  1. Hal Davis says:

    ==To what extent The Moth represents “authentic experience” is a big question, and well worth discussing. … we’re still talking about media professionals packaging our experiences and selling them back to us. Things inevitably get distorted in the translation, no matter how good everyone’s intentions are.==

    True of all art. I’ve occasionally listened to The Moth, and been intermittently impressed. But it does come across to me as too carefully packaged.


    • True of all art that has to be juried, published, or otherwise mediated before we find out about it. (Don’t ask me what art is. I haven’t a clue. ;-))

      I’m very impressed with the developmental work the Moth people did with the storytellers. It’s like good editing. It means your story doesn’t have to be ready for prime time — they’ll help it get there. So people get access to the mass audience who wouldn’t otherwise have it. But like publishers, gallery owners, et al., the Moth people are the gatekeepers They get to decide who gets access to that audience.


  2. Shirley says:

    Thank you, Susanna – nice writeup!


  3. Juleann says:

    There were hundreds of year-round Vineyarders present for this Saturday evening event — a home-crowd presence rare at this time of year. I imagine that for many of us the forty bucks was a problem, but we love The Moth Radio Hour and were simply hungry for the kind of authentic experience we knew would be provided. Kudos to ALL the storytellers — each story was unique and finely rendered.


    • You know, I didn’t see hundreds of year-round Vineyarders there. Dozens, yes, but “hundreds” seems like a stretch. My walking around was limited (my left leg was killing me), but I did walk around, before it started and during intermission. The conversations I overheard were mostly summer-people conversations. The island people seemed to be concentrated in the front, which suggests to me that they were either comped in by the performers or doing work exchange.

      True, anyone deserves congratulations for telling a story in front of that many people, and yes, each story was unique — but I didn’t think the professionals, the ones with regular access to big-time media, came off all that well. To what extent The Moth represents “authentic experience” is a big question, and well worth discussing. It’s certainly several notches up the scale from the disastrous reality TV “docu-soap” about the Vineyard that premiered earlier this summer. But we’re still talking about media professionals packaging our experiences and selling them back to us. Things inevitably get distorted in the translation, no matter how good everyone’s intentions are.


      • Juleann says:

        We were sitting in the back, surrounded on all sides by year-rounders. No one doing work exchange or comped in by the performers. Out of 1500 seats at least 200 of them were filled by year-rounders — “hundreds” was not a stretch.

        We all are visitors here. During the summer WE are sumer people, too. I’m tired of the suggestion that summer people just don’t get it. Winter on the island doesn’t happen without summer.

        I was thrilled that The Moth gave us the opportunity to hear Bill, Buddy, Cynthia & Shirley. It wouldn’t have happened without them. Listening to their stories, seeing them alone on stage under the spotlight, being part of a crowd in the Tabernacle on a summer evening (a rarity for me), seeing so many island faces that I recognized — that was an authentic experience for me. No need for you to tell me it wasn’t.


      • OK, 200 is plausible and 200 is, literally, “hundreds.” My bad. As to the rest, that’s what I was talking about the other day in “Dangling Conversation.” Hardly anyone wants to acknowledge, discuss, or analyze the impacts of the tourist economy and the second-home market on the place and the people, over time and right this minute. They talk about the “affordability gap” (between wages and the cost of housing) as if it came out of nowhere. So we blame all our problems on mostly distant entities — the liberals go on about big corporations, the Tea Party, and the 1%, the conservatives go on about liberals and big government and blame everything on the Brazilian immigrants. We’re a little microcosm of the country at large. No one wants to talk about that elephant in the living room.


  4. Someone needs to clue in WCAI that year-round islanders can’t afford $80 to hear our own folks tell their stories. I wish we could have been there. Maybe next year they’ll consider an Islander rate.


    • Here’s hoping, but I’m not holding my breath. Or maybe, because now they know they can fill the Tabernacle, they’ll be willing to cut the ticket price for everyone (say $25) and offer “patron’s tickets” for those willing and able to pay more. This makes me appreciate all the more the events we organize for each other. Like tonight (Monday, August 5) I’m going to hear Jemima James, Willy Mason, and a bunch of other wonderful musicians at Featherstone for $10, and tomorrow I’m going to the Vineyard Haven library to hear a young woman who grew up here tell her story for free.


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